7 Budget-Friendly Chemical Exfoliators [Drugstore Edition]

Finding drugstore products can be a drag. I mean, there’s so much to choose from. And deceptive product names don’t make the decision-making process any easier. 

Since I’m currently in the market for a new AHA, I decided to write a post about what’s available in terms of drugstore chemical exfoliants.

To be honest, there weren’t many winners. But I think I managed to find a few gems here and there.

1. Nip + Fab Glycolic Fix Daily Cleansing Pads

nip + fab glycolic fix daily cleansing pads - chemical exfoliantnip + fab glycolic fix daily cleansing pads - chemical exfoliant

If you’re into lazy skincare routines, you should give Nip + Fab’s Glycolic Fix Pads a go. 

First of all, it’s incredibly easy to use—just swipe a pad across your face and you’re done.

Second, it’s incredibly gentle on skin. Because it contains a modest 2.8% glycolic acid (instead of a stronger and more potentially irritating concentration, it’s a good place to start if you’re new to the acid game.

In addition to glycolic acid, this product is also loaded with a bunch of other skin goodies.

Hyaluronic acid for one has moisturizing properties. 

As a humectant, it can draw moisture from the air and hold it onto your skin. Why does that matter? According to one study, topical applications of hyaluronic acid improve skin hydration and elasticity (source). And it doesn’t end there! This same study found that it visibly reduced wrinkle depth by up to 40%.  

Fun fact: Unlike other humectants, hyaluronic acid can hold up to 1,000 times its weight in water (source).

Witch hazel—scientifically known as Hamamelis Virginiana—is known for its anti-inflammatory and astringent properties. 

Even though there aren’t any studies about its effects on acne, its astringent properties make it a really popular acne treatment. And anecdotally, it’s recommended for use on oily skin. 

Globularia Alypum Extract (aka blue daisy extract) has long been used in folk medicine. 

According to the only study, blue daisy has a trifecta of benefits—it’s anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, and antioxidant (source).

Ingredients aside, the package contains 60 pads, so if you use it once a day, it’ll last you 2 months. But if you want to get more bang for your buck, you can always cut each pad in half for 4 months of daily use (ka-ching). 

Side note: This product contains witch hazel, fragrance, and alcohol denat, so it’s not the best option for rosacea-prone skin.

Fast facts:

  • Type of acid(s): Glycolic acid, Lactic acid
  • Perfect for: Lazy skincare routines
  • Fragrance: Yes
  • Dyes: No

Check out Nip + Fab’s Glycolic Acid Fix Pads here on Amazon. (FYI: There’s also a stronger 5% version that you can find here.)

2. Pond’s Rejuveness Anti-Wrinkle Cream

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Word on the street is that Pond’s Rejuveness is a dupe for La Mer. 

But since I can’t afford La Mer’s high price tag, I can’t say for certain.

What I can say is that its star ingredient, lactic acid, is a terrific moisturizer. 

According to one study, some forms of lactic acid can combat dry skin by increasing ceramides and decreasing water loss (source). 

And since this is an “anti-wrinkle” cream, I also found another study that says that lactic acid is effective at treating fine lines and wrinkles (source). 

Now there’s another ingredient here that I want to talk about: hydrolyzed collagen.

Although collagen injections can plump you up, the topical effects of collagen are largely unsubstantiated. There aren’t any studies available on it. The only thing I could find was a podcast from The Beauty Brains, which mentioned that collagen has hydrating properties.  

Hate to say it: Collagen’s anti-aging claims are largely a marketing gimmick. So please don’t get duped on collagen creams when you make future purchases.  

Fast facts:

  • Type of acid(s): Lactic acid 
  • Perfect for: Moisturizing while treating fine lines and wrinkles
  • Fragrance: Yes
  • Dyes: No

Check out Pond’s Rejuveness Anti-Wrinkle Cream here on Amazon.

Caution: According to COSDNA, one of its ingredients (Isopropyl Palmitate) is highly comedogenic. So if you suffer from acne, you should probably skip this product.

3. Pixi Glow Tonic

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This isn’t exactly a drugstore brand—it’s more of a Target brand. 

But I still wanted to add it to the list because Pixi Glow has a major cult following. 

Why do people love this stuff?

Because it’ll brighten the heck out of your skin. 

As you might have already guessed, the glow-worthy ingredient in this product is none other than glycolic acid, the most common chemical exfoliant on the market.

Glycolic acid isn’t a one-hit-wonder. 

Other than brightening skin, it’s also a champ at exfoliating skin and stimulating collagen production. 

Fun fact: Compared to other hydroxy acids, glycolic acid actually has the smallest molecule size. That’s why it’s so darn good at penetrating skin.

And it doesn’t stop there. 

Pixi Glow added other ingredients to its formula to complement glycolic acid. 

Aloe vera is chock-full of skin-healthy actives. 

If your hair removal technician ever told you to use aloe vera after a wax, she was right! 

According to a review published in the Indian Journal of Dermatology, it protects your skin from UV radiation, reduces inflammation, and moisturizes skin (source). No wonder why it’s such a popular ingredient in skin care!

Ginseng can protect your skin from UVB radiation. 

You might recognize ginseng from your favorite tea. One study found that ginseng can protect skin cells from UVB damage (source).

Since glycolic acid makes you more sensitive to the sun, it’s cool that Pixi Glow added this ingredient to their product. 

Fast facts:

  • Type of acid(s): Glycolic acid
  • Perfect for: Gently treating fine lines and dull skin
  • Fragrance: Yes
  • Dyes: Yes

Check out Pixi Glow Tonic here on Amazon.

Side note: Similar to Nip + Fab’s Glycolic Pads, this product contains also witch hazel and fragrance. Again, it’s not the best option for rosacea-prone skin.

4. Zapzyt Acne Cleanser

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Salicylic acid isn’t for everyone. 

But if you’re oily and acne-prone, it might be the best thing to happen to your skin. 

On top of being exfoliating, it’s also lipophilic (oil-loving). Essentially, this means that it can travel into your pores to unclog them. Who doesn’t love that?

FYI: Studies have shown that salicylic acid is just as good as benzoyl peroxide at treating acne (source, source). But unlike benzoyl peroxide, it won’t bleach your clothes, sheets, and towels. Win!

The catch is that salicylic acid can be drying. 

Because it only stays on your skin for less than a minute, however, using cleansers (instead of toners and creams) can decrease some of its drying side effects.

You might like: 10 Best Salicylic Acid Cleansers To Buy Right Now

Considering that this cleanser has a teeny tiny ingredients list, it’s a safe bet for sensitive skin. I mean, the fewer ingredients something has, the less likely that you’re allergic to one of them, right? 

The only ingredient that might pose a threat is chamomile extract. (Heads up: If you’re allergic to ragweed, stay away from anything containing chamomile.)

Then again, if you’re not allergic to it, it’s pretty darn soothing. And according to a review, it’s beneficial for eczema, wound healing, and as an anti-inflammatory (source). 

Fast facts:

  • Type of acid(s): Salicylic acid 
  • Perfect for: Oily, acne-prone skin
  • Fragrance: No
  • Dyes: No

Check out Zapzyt’s Acne Cleanser here on Amazon.

Pro tip: Don’t get salicylic acid in or around your eyes!

5. Cerave SA Cream

cerave sa cream - chemical exfoliantcerave sa cream - chemical exfoliant

I know I’ve said this 1,000 times already. But I’m going to say it again: Cerave is my ALL-TIME FAVORITE skincare brand. 

No, it’s trendy. 

No, it doesn’t contain any fancy ingredients. 

But man does it get the job done—at a reasonable price at that!

In my opinion, this is the perfect thing to use for body acne because it contains the acne-slaying ingredient otherwise known as salicylic acid (which we discussed in the previous section). 

Other than salicylic acid, this formula is jam-packed with other skin-healthy goodies like niacinamide, ceramides, and hyaluronic acid. 

Niacinamide (also known as Vitamin B3) has a crazy number of benefits. 

As mentioned in the Journal of Clinical and Aesthetic Dermatology, niacinamide has been shown to reduce TEWL (transepidermal water loss), decrease redness and blotchiness, reduce fine lines, treat hyperpigmentation, and act as an antioxidant (source).

No wonder why Cerave products are so great!

Ceramides are also really cool.

Naturally, they make-up a big part of your skin’s outer layer. But when added to creams, one study showed that ceramides can increase skin hydration and reduce TEWL (source).

Fast facts:

  • Type of acid(s): Salicylic acid
  • Perfect for: Body acne (and since it contains ammonium lactate, it’s also good for treating keratosis pilaris)
  • Fragrance: No
  • Dyes: No

Check out Cerave’s SA Cream here on Amazon.

Bonus: This formula also contains ammonium lactate. AKA the KP-fighting ingredient in Amlactin! (Since Amlactin is also featured on this list, we’ll discuss ammonium lactate in more detail later in the article.)

6. Gold Bond Rough And Bumpy

gold bond rough and bumpy - chemical exfoliantgold bond rough and bumpy - chemical exfoliant

There are three classes of hydroxy acids used in cosmetics: alpha-hydroxy acid (AHA), beta-hydroxy acid (BHA), and poly-hydroxy acid (PHA).

Why am I telling you this?

Because Gold Bond Rough and Bumpy contains all three!

Here are the stats: 

  • Gluconolactone is a PHA
  • Ammonium Lactate is derived from an AHA
  • Salicylic Acid is a BHA.

As you can imagine, tripling-up on the hydroxy acids makes it that much better at exfoliating.  

But since it’s loaded with a bunch of moisturizing ingredients (like hydroxyethyl urea, shea butter, and petrolatum), it won’t likely dry you out like some other exfoliants would.

My take: After using this for about a month, I have to say, it definitely made my legs baby soft. Plus, it made a marginal difference on my keratosis pilaris (for the record, I’m talking about a 40-50% reduction in redness, not a total clearance). All in all, I think this is a decent (but not perfect) drugstore chemical exfoliant. Read my full review here

Fast facts:

  • Type of acid(s): Gluconolactone, Ammonium Lactate, and Salicylic Acid 
  • Perfect for: Baby soft legs
  • Fragrance: No (but it does smell a little funky)
  • Dyes: No

Check out the Gold Bond Rough and Bumpy here on Amazon.

7. AmLactin Daily Moisturizing Body Lotion

amlactin - chemical exfoliantamlactin - chemical exfoliant

Do you have keratosis pilaris?

The good news is that Amlactin’s got your back!

A 2015 study compared the effects of a 10% lactic acid cream to a 5% salicylic acid cream (source). After 3 months of twice-daily use, the lactic acid group saw a 66% reduction in their keratosis pilaris, while the salicylic acid group saw a 52% reduction.

What does this have to do with anything?

Amlactin contains a whopping 12% ammonium lactate, a derivative of lactic acid, which is why so many people trust it to treat their chicken skin.

Personal note: I’ve used Amlactin in the past and I can confirm that it significantly reduced my KP when I used it twice daily.

Fast facts:

  • Type of acid(s): Ammonium Lactate 
  • Perfect for: Keratosis pilaris baby!
  • Fragrance: No (but it kinda smells like ammonia)
  • Dyes: No

Check out Amlactin here on Amazon. 

Chemical Exfoliation & Sun Sensitivity

Sunburn alert!

Studies have shown that glycolic acid can increase sun sensitivity by causing things like sunburns and DNA damage (source).

Even the FDA recommends that you use sunscreen and wear protective clothing while using AHA’s. 

If you do decide to add a chemical exfoliant into your routine, please pair it with a good sunscreen. 

My top pick: I have oily skin and absolutely love using Australian Gold Botanical’s Mineral Sunscreen because it mattifies the heck out of my skin (read my full review here).

Drugstore Chemical Exfoliator: Final Thoughts

I’ll be honest with you. When it comes to drugstore chemical exfoliants, there isn’t a lot to choose from. 

Here’s a breakdown of the drugstore chemical exfoliants listed in this article:

I hope you’ll find one that’s perfect for you!

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